European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships 2019

Transylvania is best known as the mysterious land of bloodthirsty vampires and howling wolves but this week it was also host of the Transylvania Multisport European Championships with a range of multisport events including my event the Middle Distance Triathlon a 1.9km swim, 83km bike and a 20km run.

Arriving a few days before the event having taken the train from Edinburgh to London to Southend-on-sea a flight to Cluj, Romania and a rental car to race headquarters, we soon got an idea of the rural nature, the roads and hazards including horses and carts, a method of transport for many of the farmers and some potholes that beat some of Edinburgh’s roads.

The events were centred in Targu Mures, the grounds of the medieval castle being used for registration, the expo and the all too distance closing ceremony.

A GB team course recce was planned for Friday afternoon and we drove the 45-mins to the small town of Sângeorgiu de Pădure where T2 would be located.

It looked like a holiday resort when I arrived at T1, the grassy banks of the lake was littered with fellow competitors from all countries enjoy the warm sunshine and getting used to the water temperature, a cool 25°C. A loop round the cycle course confirmed the reports of a smooth undulating course requiring the full range of gears including first for the one proper hill.

Lunch by the lake before testing the water in just a tri suit, warm, really warm albeit a bit murky and a slightly spooky set of weeds just under the surface where we would be exiting in a couple of days’ time.

A recce of T1 followed and I attempted the “ladder” that we would be faced with to get us up the face of the dam to the bike rack.

Mentally prepared and it was time for some R & R before Saturday registration and team briefing.

Sunday morning came all too quickly and having been told car parking was going to be limited we opted to leave at 6am after a light “first” breakfast. Even the resident storks were still sleeping when we arrived but the car park was a heaving mass of bikes, gels, bags and competitors.

Transition was bag based, you had a peg, just like when at school, to hang your run kit before cycling off to T1 with my cycling bag ready to hang that on another set of pegs.

T1 was just two long racks sited on top of the dam to hold the 500 bikes, 200 for aqua-bike and 300 for middle distance.

20 minutes before our start time and we being told to get in our age groups at water’s edge, the elites started and we shuffle from one corral to the next getting ever closer to our start.

Finally we align, knee deep in water and the countdown starts. I opt to start on the left hand side and triangulate to the first buoys as we are taking them on the right hand shoulder. A D-shaped course and I navigated the first buoy with limited congestion, the long back to the D and I find some feet to sit on, I tested the pace by coming up alongside and soon decided these were the feet to stick on. Rounding the last buoy the huge blow up exit could be easily spotted and my mind switched to transition and the bike.

I hadn’t practised or properly thought through the bag pick up as I arrived at the peg and stood stock still whilst I pulled out my race number and crash and didn’t put in my swim hat and goggles before hanging bag back on the peg – I ran past bag drop goggles and hat in hand! I jettisoned the hat in bag drop, one memento lost and stuffed the goggles down my tri suit. I clipped up my crash hat whist negotiating the damn ladder and affix my race belt.

Straight to my bike, socks on shoes on and jogged to the mount line, people are shouting, no shouting at me. My bottle has bounced out of the cage and is rolling around in the road, it’s too hot to leave it and it could be deemed rubbish so I take the technical officials advice and turn around to retrieve it. Back to the mount line and I start the first of the four 20km laps.

With 500 bikes on just 20km of road we all expected it to be congested but it never felt too bad, a lot of bikes yes and with some bunching on the hills and dead turns. I soon became familiar with the course profile, the gearing, where to eat safely and how I would get fluids from the aid station. I was well aware that I was hydrating for the run and the bike and was determined to get 3 X 750ml of fluid during the 2hrs 15-min of the cycling. At the end of lap two, I make the bottle change and that’s me for the rest of the bike, peeling off the circuit on lap four taking the fast descent down to T2.

Unclipping the shoes and popping my feet out I dismount and immediately my bike is caught by a catcher, and I glance down a long blue carpet to the bag hanging area.

I start to run, though the quads are tight, I shouldn’t have taken that descent quite so hard and instead spun off my legs. I sit on the benching laid out next to the pegs and am briefly joined by a fellow Edinburgh Triathlete who said “fancy meeting you here” little did I know he was in my age group.

I fished out my goggles from my tri suit dropping them in my run bag, shoes on and the essential white cap as the sun is right over head and it around 28°C, and I head off to start the first of four 5km laps.

The whole run is based around the village and, along with the GB supporters, the locals have set up their deckchairs and are giving applause as we pass, the volume rising as any Romanian athlete goes passed. I spot Helen outside a very busy cafe sporting her union jack trilby and she shouts “you’re 3rd on the road”, a tingle went down my spine, I never expected to anywhere close to 3rd and I knew I could see a rival ahead.

My rival had sprinted past me at the Outlaw Half in Nottingham just six weeks earlier beating me by 17 seconds, this was a re-match – but then if I was 3rd then he was 2nd and I was catching still with 15km to go. I decided to catch him and then sit behind him for 5km to save my legs and wear down his.

The aid stations were in demand with copious amounts of water and sponges in an effort to keep us cool. I was determined to take fluid at each 2.5km station but that became incompatible with my drafting strategy as my rival stopped to drink and I drank on the hoof. I made my move at 8km computing the two possible outcomes! Next time passed the cafe I get a different signal from my loyal supporter “I don’t know” and I recall my rule, no matter who the spectator is, don’t rely on them to give you positional information – it’s my race to win or lose. I push on with this in mind, now thinking that I have to run and fast as I can for as long as I can.

Lap 4 starts, this is going to be tough, I’m needing to visualise something to get me through this. I focus on my last tread mill run where I could see my reflection to help work on form – that run was 10km, in doors with no breeze and I only had 5km to go before completing this championship event.

I mentally split up the course in sections, focused on form, blocked the supporters and just kept going. My calves started to tingle with 2km to go, surely I can get through this without cramping up. The cramp gets worse, I shorten my stride and up the cadence, giving some release.

One last dog leg to go before the finish and I spot a number ahead from my age group, I have to get past. I edge past and can see the finish, I’m going to have to lift it as there may be another sprint finish disappointment. People are shouting, right all or nothing as I go for the line.

The race commentator announces my name as my time chip is being removed by a helper, “Dave Smith on the podium in 3rd place” a tiger punch, way beyond my expectations. The winner, a German athlete is waiting to congratulate me – we chat briefly before I seek out the cooling ponds that have been set up at the finish to bring us back to life.